BASSETERRE, St.Kitts (Friday 11th December 2020) – Event organizers in St.Kitts-Nevis are being advised about the guidelines now in place to control the risk of community spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in determining whether or not permission is granted for hosting such as a cap on the number persons allowed to attend, location as well as whether or not there will be music, dancing and use of alcohol.
To this end, organizers are being asked not to advertise events until permission is obtained.
“You [individuals in general] can go out unknowingly, spread the virus and your action would not come into play until two weeks later when persons start getting sick. We need now to put things into place that would mitigate this so that we don’t have community spread.”
So said Medical Chief of Staff at the Joseph N. France General Hospital and member of the COVID-19 National Task Force Dr. Cameron Wilkinson when he spoke at the National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) COVID-19 Briefing on Wednesday 9th December 2020.
According to him, the World Health Organization has advised about avoiding the three Cs- Crowd, Closed Spaces and Close contact settings.
“Crowd, closed spaces and close contact settings can significantly increase the risk of community spread and this is why we are taking proactive steps to controlling this,” he noted.
“Once we start bringing more and more persons together from different households and different communities together in one space then the risk of COVID-19 spreading significantly increases …and so the highest risk is associated with a large in person gathering where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least six feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area, and this is the scenario with the major mass events that we normally have around Christmas and carnival time, and so we are asking persons to take these things into consideration when they are planning their events because of this we have decided to place a cap on the number of persons who can attend these events and so going forward from now, there will be a cap on the number of persons who can attend these mass gatherings or social events, and this figure was factored in when we thought about the capacity of our healthcare system,” Dr. Wilkinson highlighted.
“Now the persons who organize mass events have been asking for some strict guidelines so that they can understand what are the protocols in place so that they can know whether or not they can get permission for their events, and we’ve put together some protocols and these were sanctioned by cabinet this week,” he said.
Dr. Wilkinson stated that a mass event or mass gathering counts if the number of people it brings together is so large that it has the potential to strain the planning and response resources of the health system in the community where it takes place.
“.. and this is in the context of COVID-19 because prior to COVID-19 where we were thinking about a mass gathering as a stadium that is packed with thousands of persons but we now have to take into consideration the health system and whether or not we can deal with the outcome that would occur if we have a significant spread following these mass events.”
He said a gathering refers to planned or spontaneous events whether it is indoor or outdoor with a small number of people participating or a large number of persons in attendance such as community events, concerts, festivals, conference, parades, wedding or sporting event.
“Now in addition to the number of persons, we also take into consideration the location and the duration of the event and we have a number of guidelines that we have put forward that persons can follow,” Dr. Wilkinson said.
He explained that first permission must be obtained from the Commissioner of Police and that such would be done in collaboration with the Chief Medical Officer for hosting these events.
“…we’re asking organizers not to advertise these events until permission is obtained. We’ve seen situations where persons have been advertising events. People end up buying tickets and then if they’re not given permission we have problems.”
The COVID-19 National Task Force officials said in addition to the number of persons scheduled to attend factored in when the decision is made will be whether or not there will be music, dancing, use of alcohol and the duration of the event.
He expressed, however, that it is not just absolute numbers but what happens at these events that would be looked at.
Dr. Wilkinson said going forward, events sizes would be in three main categories namely small (between 25 and 50 people), medium (between 51 and 100 people) and large (between 101 and 150 people).
For small gatherings, if the number is below 25, permission from police commissioner would not be required.
He said consideration will also be given to whether or not the event is being kept indoors or outdoors.
“We know that the risk of the virus spreading is much greater if it’s an indoor event as opposed to an outdoor event so a more favorable outlook would be considered if your event is outdoors.”
As understood, no permission would be given for more than 100 people for an indoor event. The minimum square footage is 30 square feet per person for adequate social distancing
Dr. Wilkinson said a visit would be made to the site to confirm square footage submitted on the request. Outdoor locations would also be visited to determine if proper social distancing can be done to host the event.
He emphasized that the number of persons in attendance would significantly affect the risk as it pertains to the spread of COVID-19 noting that the lowest risk is obviously associated with virtual events.
“Recently saw the completion of the calypso tents whereby a number of persons looking at these events virtually at home in the safety of your bedroom or your living room, and this is what carries the least amount of risk,” he observed.